A Belle man convicted of voluntary manslaughter was sentenced to 10 years in prison Tuesday morning.
Kanawha Circuit Judge Tod Kaufman noted that with good behavior, Jeffrey Adam Wentz would serve half that sentence, and that he would be eligible for parole after two-and-a-half years.
The state asked for the maximum sentence, 15 years, for Wentz, who was convicted in October 2019; a jury found that Wentz, 33, didn’t act in self-defense when he shot and killed 51-year-old Nelson Maynard Mitchell in May 2019.
Wentz’s defense attorney, Mark Atkinson, asked the court that Wentz instead receive a long-term stint in a drug rehabilitation center. He said this whole incident revolved around drugs, and that Wentz was nine months clean and was doing well in recovery.
Kaufman said that Wentz will undergo drug treatment while in prison, and he’d be evaluated again when he’s eligible for parole, which will determine the rest of his sentence.
Wentz spoke briefly before the sentencing. He apologized to Mitchell’s mother and older sister, who sat in the courtroom. He said his nine months served already has cleared his mind, and he’s ready to move forward.
“I don’t want to go back to that life … and be a drug addict again,” he said.
Kaufman said after handing down the sentence that Mitchell’s death highlights what the opioid epidemic has left in Appalachia.
“I think this is just the worst type of outcome of the drug, opiate, epidemic that there could be,” he said.
In October 2019, jurors were asked to consider whether Wentz reasonably was in fear for his life when he shot Mitchell on May 2, 2019, amid a fight about a drug transaction.
Brittany Wherle, Mitchell’s girlfriend, witnessed the shooting. She told jurors she and Mitchell had gone to Wentz’s apartment to get heroin after her friend, Chelsea Ward, set up a deal with him.
Wentz previously told Mitchell he wasn’t welcome at his home, Wentz’s attorneys said, so Ward was in charge of conducting the transaction wherein she traded with Wentz a stroller and car seat that Mitchell stole from the Quincy Walmart for heroin.
Surveillance video from a business next door to Wentz’s apartment along DuPont Avenue in Belle was shown to jurors during the trial. In the video, Ward can be seen taking the stroller and entering Wentz’s apartment.
Wherle, and later Mitchell, came to the door multiple times but wasn’t allowed inside.
Four men exited Wentz’s apartment at one point, and Wentz followed with a gun. Mitchell and Wherle weren’t visible in the video at that time.
Mitchell and Wherle returned, and Mitchell began throwing several rocks and busting out windows in Wentz’s apartment. As Mitchell picked up the eighth rock, Wentz fired three shots toward him from the inside of his apartment.
Prosecutors argued that Mitchell was trying to run away, and defense attorneys said Mitchell was in the midst of throwing the eighth rock and potentially physically attacking Wentz.
One of the shots struck Mitchell in the back, killing him.
Wentz was convicted following a two-day-long trial, where jurors watched a video of the shooting taken from a surveillance camera Wentz was charged with first-degree murder, and Kanawha Assistant Prosecutors J.C. MacCallum and Justin Marlowe had asked jurors to consider that charge along with second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter.
MacCallum told jurors that Wentz shot Mitchell because he was mad and annoyed with Mitchell.
Wentz’s attorneys, Mark Atkinson and Michael Hissam, had asked jurors to find that Wentz acted in self-defense and acquit him, saying he shot Mitchell because he feared for his life.
The conviction of voluntary manslaughter indicated that jurors found Wentz intentionally killed Mitchell, but he didn’t do so with malice.